The opioid epidemic in America is a major problem that has only gotten worse over the past several decades, affecting countless people and families. In October, President Trump officially declared opiate addiction a public health emergency.
Former opiate addict Matthew Kronner said that the worst part for him was the stigma of being an addict.
“When your friends and family find out it’s one of two ways,” Kronner said. “He’s a junkie, burnout and loser or let’s get him help.”
Kronner also said he believes that the stigma gave him a different perspective on drug addicts, seeing them people who lost their way rather than just losers with poor self-control.
But Kronner is not the only one. According to the Ingham County Health Department’s statistics, there have been 441 overdose-related emergency department visits in 2017, a 6.3 percent increase from 415 visits in 2016.
Linda Vail, the health official of Ingham County, said that the opioid epidemic and the over-prescribing epidemic are synonymous.
“Narcotics were only prescribed for pain that was severe trauma pain, surgery pain, major surgery pain, and end of life cancer pain. Chronic pain was never thought of at the time as something you would prescribe narcotics for,” Vail said. “Somehow or another we came about this conclusion that we could treat other sorts of pain with narcotics and that it was effective and safe.”
Jed Magen, associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan State University, said opiate addictions could happen to anybody. Magen said that the feelings of pleasure called hedonic feelings occur because you get release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This constant flow of dopamine is what keeps addicts wanting more opiates.
“So when you do something that’s pleasurable, like a nice dessert, or you go out and run, and it feels good. It could be a variety of things,” Magen said. “Those dopamine levels increase and so that’s how you get those feelings of pleasure.”
Lynn Bitoni, mother of a former opiate addict, said that the addiction put a lot of stress onto her family.
“It’s sad because when you see somebody who has such potential to be what he wanted to be, and because you know the choices that he made, it lead to him not being a successful man,” Bitoni said. “He would score off the charts on standardized tests and the MEAP tests.”
Bitoni also said that as a family member of someone being addicted to opiates, fear and anger were the two biggest emotions she came across during her son’s addiction.
Sara Steyer, a former opiate addict, said her fear of telling other people about her problem really prevented her from getting the help she needed.
“I didn’t want to tell a single soul about it because my fear was, no matter who it was their perception of me would change completely,” Steyer said. “It definitely made it so much harder to go find help that would get me off the addiction.”
Linda Davis, judge at the 41B District Court, president of Families Against Narcotics and chair of the Governor’s Opiate Commission, said that there is not enough federal action being done to stop this epidemic that is plaguing this country.
“There are things that need to happen at a federal level,” Davis said. “Money needs to be put into treatment so there is viable treatment for people who need help, housing and jobs available for them, and huge provision programs to show that the drugs are dangerous and that they are really putting themselves at risk.”
Opioid Deaths by Race in Ingham County:
Opioid Deaths by Gender in Ingham County:
Opioid Deaths by Age Group in Ingham County: